30 from 30: #26 – Russell Hantz Finds an Idol without Clues

The Moment:

Russell Hantz finds a hidden immunity idol without a clue, to the delight of production.

We’re counting down the 30 Moments That Shaped Survivor, events that happened on the show that helped create and evolve the game and the series that we know and love. Go here to view the criteria we are using to determine what qualifies for the list. And since these posts are covering the first thirty seasons of Survivor, there will be spoilers for various Survivor seasons.


Why It Matters:

By the time Survivor: Samoa aired, there had been eight seasons of Survivor that featured a hidden immunity idol.  Six of those eight seasons featured Exile Island. One of the ways the show tried to keep the Exile Island twist interesting was by either having clues to immunity idols that were either hidden on Exile or back at camp. These idols were often buried or in otherwise difficult to stumble upon locations.

Yul Kwon with the idol he just unearthed. Oh, and look at that! He doesn't have a shirt on. How about that.
Yul Kwon with the idol he just unearthed. Oh, and look at that! He doesn’t have a shirt on. How about that.

The two previous idol seasons that did not use Exile Island were Survivor: Guatemala, which was the first season to feature a hidden immunity idol, and Survivor: China, which for the first time featured idols hidden in plain sight.

Given the way that idols had previously been hidden, it makes sense that discovering those idols has always required at least one clue. (At least in terms of what’s seen on the show. Parvati allegedly swam into an idol on accident in Survivor: Micronesia and didn’t bother bringing it with her because it would just cause unnecessary drama.)

That would change for Survivor: Samoa, and the effects were seen in just the second episode.

After just one episode airing, Russell Hantz is already seen as the villain and big character of the season, with Jeff Probst spelling Foa Foa’s problem R-U-S-S-E-L-L in the “Previously on Survivor” segment.

Despite already voting out a Day One ally and alienating another, Russell does have a trusted alliance partner in Jaison. Russell thinks Jaison is a good guy to have around because he’s calm and collected. Sidebar: Closed captioning disagrees with me, but I swear to god he says “collective” instead of collected, a la Rodney.

Frontman of the Cool Calm Collective
Frontman of the Cool Calm Collective

The day after their first Tribal Council, Russell approaches Jaison to discuss a theory. Russell thinks there’s an immunity idol hidden at their camp. He tells Jaison to keep this theory a secret. Russell admits he probably shouldn’t have said anything, but he trusts Jaison. Now, Russell didn’t just bring Jaison off into the jungle to say he thinks there’s an idol. No, he thinks they should look for it. Without a clue.

"You remember the part where there even being an idol at camp is just a theory, right Russ?"
“You remember the part where there even being an idol at camp is just a theory, right Russ?”

“If we could find that idol without any clues?” says Russell, “That would be wonderful.”

He says it with stars in his eyes.
He says it with stars in his eyes.

Jaison is a little doubtful, but Russell is all in, even giving a boastful confessional about just the idea of finding an idol without a clue.

If I could find that idol, that would be genius. In the history of Survivor, how many people have found an idol without a clue? Zero.

This is interesting for two reasons: One, it seems to be commonly accepted that Russell was not a prior fan of Survivor, yet he seems awfully confident about the fact that no one had found an idol without a clue. Two, as we remember from earlier in this post, finding an idol without a clue in many of the earlier seasons would have required actively ignoring clues and just digging randomly while hoping for the best.

But no matter, off Russell scurries to look for the idol.

Something something bandy legged troll
Is it here? Nope.
Is it here? Nope.

So Russell continues to search for the idol, and we continue to wonder if the Galu tribe is a figment of our imagination, when there’s a shot of a large tree with a cave at its base.

Significant tree
Tree of significance

So Russell starts looking there. But here’s the thing, this tree is right next to the main part of Foa Foa’s camp, and pretty much all of his tribe mates are around while Russell roots through the tree. Racist Ben asks Russell what he’s doing, and he straight up admits that he’s looking for the idol.

Although you try coming up with another reason to be doing this.
Although you try coming up with another reason to be doing this.

So now the Foa Foas gather around to watch Russell look for the idol.

And to think how smug Spencer was when he found an idol without Kass noticing.
And to think how smug Spencer was when he found an idol without Kass noticing.

Seeing nothing at the bass of the tree, Russell looks up into the hollow part of the trunk.

Well I'll be damned.
Well I’ll be damned.

And there’s an idol! Like it or not, Russell Hantz becomes the first castaway ever to find a hidden immunity idol without any sort of clue. But he’s still surrounded by his tribe mates, so he tucks it in his underpants (oh god, gross) and gets out of there.

He later shows Jaison the idol and the note that came with it.

Look! Russell with a friend! Of course, it's been a week.
Look! Russell with a friend! Of course, it’s been a week.

Jaison is happy the idol is on his side, but less thrilled that Russell is the one who has it. The producers, on the other hand, are thrilled. It’s a fresh moment for a show in it’s 19th season, and they really lean into it. Both Russell and hidden immunity idols dominate the rest of the season. Survivor: Samoa may as well be called Russellmania.

Actual Google Image result for "russellmania".
Actual Google Image result for “russellmania”.

The Impact:

Love him or hate it, Russell Hantz gave Survivor a shot in the arm. People were so entertained by the villain and his many idols that the show tried to recapture some of that magic. As we all know, they started that off by making Russell a focal point in Survivor: Heroes Vs. Villains. Russell, of course, found another immunity idol sans clue, and there were many idol plays that season.

It’s no coincidence that Russell is not the only person to have found immunity idols without a clue. Gone are the days of the buried immunity idol, now it just seems to be the case of looking for a funky tree or rock formation.

By the third Russell Hantz season, everyone expected idols to be found without clues on Survivor: Redemption Island. Kristina Kell found one right away, becoming the first woman to find an immunity idol sans clue. Of course, Kristina wasn’t on Russell’s tribe, so she had more of a chance to find one than the Zapateras. Surely Russell would find an idol oh oops, Ralph Kiser was gathering rocks and look what happened?

You sure did, buddy.
You sure did, buddy.

Things reach an apex in Survivor: One World when all three immunity idols were found (by Sabrina, Kim, and Troyzan, respectively) without any clues. Perhaps seeing that it wasn’t exciting anymore, clues returned in Survivor: Philippines and managed to inject some drama into the game.

The short trend of no clues at all seems to have ended, but so far the show has not swung back to the point where it’s impossible to find without a clue. Most recently, Jenn Brown became the hero of the niche group of vegetarian Survivor fans (it can’t just be me, right?) when she both avoided watching a chicken get slaughtered and found an immunity idol.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner
Winner, winner, chicken dinner

Some hope that the show will start burying idols again so they’re not so easy to find. But the show wants idols in the game. The key will be finding the balance.


I know there were a lot of shirtless pictures of Russell in this. I’m sorry about that. It was pretty unavoidable. Allow me to present a peace offering.

You're welcome.
You’re welcome.

What Else Made the List?

You can view all our 30 from 30 content by clicking here.

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Emma is the token chick of the Purple Rock Podcast. She has watched the show continuously since the second episode and is pretty sure she's never seen the pilot.

Favorite seasons: Heroes vs. Villains, Micronesia, Cambodia, Cook Islands, China, Philippines

Favorite players: Courtney Yates, Parvati Shallow, John Cochran, Cirie Fields, Yul Kwon, Kim Spradlin
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  • andythesaint

    Tony, AKA the Russell who doesn’t suck, found two of his idols without clues (other than the clue that one of them existed).

    • Purple Rock Emma

      I’m going to pretend this oversight was due to not wanting to step on any toes for later.

  • Diego Armando

    Thank you for providing images that prevent me from having to view Russell’s trollesqe physique. The fact that they are of a player who is great is a bonus.

  • Diego Armando

    I am stunned you did not work in a gif of Courtney’s Russell impression.

    • Purple Rock Emma

      Honestly, it’s mostly due to the quick turnaround and being pretty busy the past couple days. Couldn’t get as fancy. So I played homage via words instead.

      • Diego Armando

        That is fine, I just assumed your love of Courtney would prevent you from omitting that. The fact that you wrote two of these heavily detailed posts in a row is fantastic. Great work!

        • Purple Rock Emma

          Oh, I knew what you were getting at. That’s exactly why I used “bandy legged troll” as a caption. But thank you!

  • gouis

    Did you read Jenn’s recent AMA? It’s a real delight (aside from her continuing to think Will is a swell guy).

    • Purple Rock Emma

      I didn’t, but I’ll have to check it out when I get a chance. And that’s interesting, since she at least wasn’t on his side for the whole incident.

    • purplerockpodcast

      I read some of it. I do enjoy her distaste for Tyler, whether it’s joking or not (I choose to believe it’s not), but I was also disappointed that she seems ok with Will.

      • gouis

        I think it’s one of those things where she has the attitude of ‘he was always nice to me’. I personally cannot understand that line of thinking, but many people behave that way. Like she was on Shirin’s side, but also didn’t want to get involved and vilify anyone.

      • sharculese

        OT, because I was looking at your tweets – I feel like I might have told this story before, but a couple months ago I made my housemate watch Amazon, to cure him of his delusion that challenge wins are the most important thing in picking a winner. Instead, he went into the final episode telling me that he hoped the final two was Matt and Jenna, because ‘they seem like they deserve it.’

    • Barbara Anderson

      I think that is just Jenn. She may hate what he did to Shirin, but I don’t think that she cannot hate him. She is the perfect embodiment of the No Collar mentality in that way…I assume. I still have no idea what they were going for with that and they were my favorite tribe last season.

  • inmyslumber

    Hasn’t Russell said he pretty much figured out where the Idols were because he would just look wherever the camera men were pointing?

    • Purple Rock Emma

      I thought that was Rob, but it also sounds like the sort of trick that gets independently figured out by multiple people.

      • andythesaint

        I’ve heard it as Rob as well.

  • andythesaint

    I just have to add: this is my favourite header image of the entire series. I’m confident that it can’t be topped with the four remaining posts.

  • Violina23

    As I said when I was a guest on the podcast, Samoa was one of the seasons that revitalized my interested in Survivor b/c of Russell’s game play. I know he wasn’t (isn’t) a likable person in real life, but he was definitely entertaining survivor. I would never defend him as an all-time great survivor player, because completely failing to understand that people need to like and/or respect you well enough to vote you the winner is just ridiculous. Especially the 2nd and 3rd time.

    But it was a highly entertaining season in my memory, and one of the reasons I started following recaps and eventually stumbled upon you fine people 😉

  • Ethan Kyle

    Didn’t Gary Hawkins (Hodgeboom) find an idol without a clue, I mean there was a clue but it wasn’t his

    • andythesaint

      He did it with the aid of a clue, even if he didn’t have the clue itself.

  • Saturday Night Palsy

    @purplerockemma:disqus Certainly by now you know that you are not the only vegetarian around here. Right? I’ve finally seen every season so I’m going through old content now.